Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Battle of Britain: Defiants & Disasters

Defiants of 264 Squadron (RAF official photo)

Friday July 19th 1940 was the worst day of the Battle of Britain thus far for RAF Fighter Command and in particular a day that was nothing short of disastrous for 141 Squadron, flying their Boulton Paul Defiants, which before the war had been championed in certain quarters of the RAF as the preferred choice over the eight gunned Hurricanes and Spitfires.

July 19th 1940 was a showery day with bright intervals and the nine Defiants of 141 Squadron, newly arrived from Edinburgh, took off from Hawkinge a little after 12:30 and had been ordered to patrol at a height of 5,000 feet south of Folkestone. They had not long been airborne when they were 'bounced' by twenty Bf109s diving out of the sun. It was a slaughter; within moments, five of the Defiants had plummeted into the Channel, whilst a sixth crashed in Dover itself. Another of the once much-vaunted 'turret fighters' was so badly damaged as to be a write off and the remaining survivors were only saved by the timely intervention of the Hurricanes of 111 Squadron who managed to break up the attacking fighters. At the end of the engagement, four pilots and five air gunners of 141 Squadron were dead, with two more injured. The battered remnants of 141 were hurriedly sent back north, this time to Prestwick, where they could lick their wounds and await conversion to the night fighter role. The other Defiant squadron, No. 264 was also removed from the fray shortly afterwards.

The events of July 19th were the final nail in the coffin for the so called 'turret fighter' experiment. In 1938, William Sholto Douglas, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, had been of the opinion that Fighter Command should form at least 9 squadrons out of Fighter Command's then planned strength of 38. The Deputy Director of Home Operations, Donald Stevenson, went even further and argued for the Defiant to be produced in large numbers in preference to the Hurricane and Spitfire. Fortunately for the outcome of the Battle of Britain, the AOC of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding, argued even more vigorously against this plan, and managed to keep the eight gun Spitfire and Hurricane in development and was eventually able to build his command around these two more than capable fighter aircraft.

Sholto Douglas, like Dowding and many of their contemporary senior officers in the inter-war RAF, had served in the First World War and had seen the success of the two seater Bristol Fighter in the air war over the Western Front. This was the thinking behind the Defiant, a two-seater 'heavy fighter', armed with an aft-facing powerful turret containing four .303 Browning machine guns but crucially and unlike the earlier Bristol, no forward firing machine guns. Douglas and Stevenson conveniently overlooked this fact, but fortunately for the RAF, Dowding did not and strongly objected to the introduction of what he saw as a white elephant designed on the basis of now outdated tactics. 

Sholto Douglas (left) with Keith Park at Malta 1943 (RAF)

To engage enemy bombers by day, the Defiant had to place itself in the most vulnerable position for an attacking aircraft - ahead of and below it's intended prey and whilst it could adequately defend itself against a stern attack by fighters, it was helpless against a determined head on attack. Furthermore, although it was powered by the same Merlin engine that made the Hurricane and Spitfire such nimble adversaries for the Luftwaffe fighters, the Defiant was over half a ton heavier than than the Hurricane, as it carried the extra weight of both the turret and the air gunner, making it sluggish in the extreme.

In it's initial encounters with the Luftwaffe over Dunkirk, the Defiants of 264 Squadron had acquitted themselves well as the pilots of the Bf109s had mistakenly identified them as Hurricanes and had received an unpleasant surprise when they attacked from astern. By July 1940, however, the secret was out and the German pilots had amended their tactics accordingly with disastrous results for the pilots and particularly the air gunners of the Defiants, who found their turrets almost impossible to bale out from in combat conditions.

As mentioned earlier, the remaining Defiants were quickly removed from the action and eventually converted to the night fighter role, in which they had some limited success. However, the truth of the matter was that the concept of the 'heavy fighter' was a faulty one, in much the same way as the Bf110 'Zerstorer' or Destroyer was for the Luftwaffe and whilst the Bf110 became a more than useful night fighter, the Defiants were eventually relegated to the menial role of target tugs, as far removed from the enemy as possible.

Had Sholto Douglas had his way - and he was a man who usually did get his own way - and had Dowding been less determined in his opposition to the concept of the 'turret fighter', then Fighter Command could have gone into the Battle of Britain saddled with large numbers of a fighter that was worse than useless and which could have lost the battle inside a matter of weeks. Fortunately, Dowding knew the potential of the Spitfire and Hurricane and fought tenaciously to equip his command with these two wonderful aircraft.

Sholto Douglas was also one of the main proponents of another faulty doctrine, that of the 'Big Wing'; once again he met with implacable opposition from Dowding and whilst the latter's view prevailed long enough to ensure that the Battle of Britain would be won using the tactics preferred by Dowding and Park, that of using smaller numbers of fighters to intercept the enemy as far forward as possible, this time Douglas did get his own way and replaced Dowding as Head of Fighter Command in November 1940, replacing Park with another of his 'Big Wing' champions, Leigh-Mallory at the same time. Both of these men favoured the policy of deploying large fighter sweeps or 'Rhubarbs' over enemy occupied Europe, a policy which showed that both men had learned nothing from the Battle of Britain and which effectively placed the RAF in the same position as the Germans in 1940 - i.e. that of sending large numbers of short range, single engined interceptor fighters over enemy territory with very limited fuel endurance and with any downed pilots having little chance of getting home. It was a policy which was to cost the RAF dearly both in machines and men but which is another story.

Published Sources:

Dowding of Fighter Command - Vincent Orange, Grub Street 2008
The Most Dangerous Enemy - Stephen Bungay, Aurum Press 2000
The Narrow Margin - Derek Wood with Derek Dempster, Tri-Service Press 1990

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain

Winston Churchill in 1940 (IWM)
July 10th 1940 is the date most commonly agreed upon by historians as that which marks the opening of the First Phase of the Battle of Britain. It would be impossible in a blog of this nature to summarize the entire Battle in one post - after all, very many authors of high repute have devoted entire books to the subject and sometimes just to cover one day of the Battle, such was it's vastness in scope and it's importance to the survival of not only this country but the Free World as a whole.

In the coming weeks and months, we shall once again look at various aspects of the Battle of Britain in this blog but for now, let us examine the speech that introduced the phrase "Battle of Britain" into the consciousness of the British people and to World history. It is perhaps sometimes forgotten that it was Winston Churchill who first used the phrase in the closing part of a 36 minute speech to the House of Commons on June 18th 1940 on the state of the war following the imminent Fall of France. The date marked the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and when Churchill first used the phrase 'Battle of Britain', he could have only but hoped that the outcome of this battle would be as favourable as that which had taken place in 1815.

The speech is repeated verbatim below:

"I spoke the other day of the colossal military disaster which occurred when the French High Command failed to withdraw the northern Armies from Belgium at the moment when they knew that the French front was decisively broken at Sedan and on the Meuse. This delay entailed the loss of fifteen or sixteen French divisions and threw out of action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force. Our Army and 120,000 French troops were indeed rescued by the British Navy from Dunkirk but only with the loss of their cannon, vehicles and modern equipment. This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks the battle in France has been lost. When we consider the heroic resistance made by the French Army against heavy odds in this battle, the enormous losses inflicted upon the enemy and the evident exhaustion of the enemy, it may well be the thought that these 25 divisions of the best-trained and best-equipped troops might have turned the scale. However, General Weygand had to fight without them. Only three British divisions or their equivalent were able to stand in the line with their French comrades. They have suffered severely, but they have fought well. We sent every man we could to France as fast as we could re-equip and transport their formations.

I am not reciting these facts for the purpose of recrimination. That I judge to be utterly futile and even harmful. We cannot afford it. I recite them in order to explain why it was we did not have, as we could have had, between twelve and fourteen British divisions fighting in the line in this great battle instead of only three. Now I put all this aside. I put it on the shelf, from which the historians, when they have time, will select their documents to tell their stories. We have to think of the future and not of the past. This also applies in a small way to our own affairs at home. There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the Governments-and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too-during the years which led up to this catastrophe. They seek to indict those who were responsible for the guidance of our affairs. This also would be a foolish and pernicious process. There are too many in it. Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches. I frequently search mine.

Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future. Therefore, I cannot accept the drawing of any distinctions between Members of the present Government. It was formed at a moment of crisis in order to unite all the Parties and all sections of opinion. It has received the almost unanimous support of both Houses of Parliament. Its Members are going to stand together, and, subject to the authority of the House of Commons, we are going to govern the country and fight the war. It is absolutely necessary at a time like this that every Minister who tries each day to do his duty shall be respected; and their subordinates must know that their chiefs are not threatened men, men who are here today and gone tomorrow, but that their directions must be punctually and faithfully obeyed. Without this concentrated power we cannot face what lies before us. I should not think it would be very advantageous for the House to prolong this Debate this afternoon under conditions of public stress. Many facts are not clear that will be clear in a short time. We are to have a secret Session on Thursday, and I should think that would be a better opportunity for the many earnest expressions of opinion which Members will desire to make and for the House to discuss vital matters without having everything read the next morning by our dangerous foes.

 The disastrous military events which have happened during the past fortnight have not come to me with any sense of surprise. Indeed, I indicated a fortnight ago as clearly as I could to the House that the worst possibilities were open; and I made it perfectly clear then that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, 'if necessary for years, if necessary alone.' During the last few days we have successfully brought off the great majority of the troops we had on the line of communication in France; and seven-eighths of the troops we have sent to France since the beginning of the war-that is to say, about 350,000 out of 400,000 men-are safely back in this country. Others are still fighting with the French, and fighting with considerable success in their local encounters against the enemy. We have also brought back a great mass of stores, rifles and munitions of all kinds which had been accumulated in France during the last nine months.

We have, therefore, in this Island today a very large and powerful military force. This force comprises all our best-trained and our finest troops, including scores of thousands of those who have already measured their quality against the Germans and found themselves at no disadvantage. We have under arms at the present time in this Island over a million and a quarter men. Behind these we have the Local Defence Volunteers, numbering half a million, only a portion of whom, however, are yet armed with rifles or other firearms. We have incorporated into our Defence Forces every man for whom we have a weapon. We expect very large additions to our weapons in the near future, and in preparation for this we intend forthwith to call up, drill and train further large numbers. Those who are not called up, or else are employed during the vast business of munitions production in all its branches-and their ramifications are innumerable-will serve their country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they receive their summons. We have also over here Dominions armies. The Canadians had actually landed in France, but have now been safely withdrawn, much disappointed, but in perfect order, with all their artillery and equipment. And these very high-class forces from the Dominions will now take part in the defence of the Mother Country.

Lest the account which I have given of these large forces should raise the question: Why did they not take part in the great battle in France? I must make it clear that, apart from the divisions training and organizing at home, only 12 divisions were equipped to fight upon a scale which justified their being sent abroad. And this was fully up to the number which the French had been led to expect would be available in France at the ninth month of the war. The rest of our forces at home have a fighting value for home defence which will, of course, steadily increase every week that passes. Thus, the invasion of Great Britain would at this time require the transportation across the sea of hostile armies on a very large scale, and after they had been so transported they would have to be continually maintained with all the masses of munitions and supplies which are required for continuous battle-as continuous battle it will surely be.

Here is where we come to the Navy-and after all, we have a Navy. Some people seem to forget that we have a Navy. We must remind them. For the last thirty years I have been concerned in discussions about the possibilities of oversea invasion, and I took the responsibility on behalf of the Admiralty, at the beginning of the last war, of allowing all regular troops to be sent out of the country. That was a very serious step to take, because our Territorials had only just been called up and were quite untrained. Therefore, this Island was for several months particularly denuded of fighting troops. The Admiralty had confidence at that time in their ability to prevent a mass invasion even though at that time the Germans had a magnificent battle fleet in the proportion of 10 to 16, even though they were capable of fighting a general engagement every day and any day, whereas now they have only a couple of heavy ships worth speaking of-the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. We are also told that the Italian Navy is to come out and gain sea superiority in these waters. If they seriously intend it, I shall only say that we shall be delighted to offer Signor Mussolini a free and safeguarded passage through the Strait of Gibraltar in order that he may play the part to which he aspires. There is a general curiosity in the British Fleet to find out whether the Italians are up to the level they were at in the last war or whether they have fallen off at all.

Therefore, it seems to me that as far as sea-borne invasion on a great scale is concerned, we are far more capable of meeting it today than we were at many periods in the last war and during the early months of this war, before our other troops were trained, and while the B.E.F. had proceeded abroad. Now, the Navy have never pretended to be able to prevent raids by bodies of 5,000 or 10,000 men flung suddenly across and thrown ashore at several points on the coast some dark night or foggy morning. The efficacy of sea power, especially under modern conditions, depends upon the invading force being of large size; It has to be of large size, in view of our military strength, to be of any use. If it is of large size, then the Navy have something they can find and meet and, as it were, bite on. Now, we must remember that even five divisions, however lightly equipped, would require 200 to 250 ships, and with modern air reconnaissance and photography it would not be easy to collect such an armada, marshal it, and conduct it across the sea without any powerful naval forces to escort it; and there would be very great possibilities, to put it mildly, that this armada would be intercepted long before it reached the coast, and all the men drowned in the sea or, at the worst blown to pieces with their equipment while they were trying to land. We also have a great system of minefields, recently strongly reinforced, through which we alone know the channels. If the enemy tries to sweep passages through these minefields, it will be the task of the Navy to destroy the mine-sweepers and any other forces employed to protect them. There should be no difficulty in this, owing to our great superiority at sea.

Those are the regular, well-tested, well-proved arguments on which we have relied during many years in peace and war. But the question is whether there are any new methods by which those solid assurances can be circumvented. Odd as it may seem, some attention has been given to this by the Admiralty, whose prime duty and responsibility is to destroy any large sea-borne expedition before it reaches, or at the moment when it reaches, these shores. It would not be a good thing for me to go into details of this. It might suggest ideas to other people which they have not thought of, and they would not be likely to give us any of their ideas in exchange. All I will say is that untiring vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of novel treacheries and stratagems. The House may be assured that the utmost ingenuity is being displayed and imagination is being evoked from large numbers of competent officers, well-trained in tactics and thoroughly up to date, to measure and counterwork novel possibilities. Untiring vigilance and untiring searching of the mind is being, and must be, devoted to the subject, because, remember, the enemy is crafty and there is no dirty trick he will not do.

Some people will ask why, then, was it that the British Navy was not able to prevent the movement of a large army from Germany into Norway across the Skagerrak? But the conditions in the Channel and in the North Sea are in no way like those which prevail in the Skagerrak. In the Skagerrak, because of the distance, we could give no air support to our surface ships, and consequently, lying as we did close to the enemy's main air power, we were compelled to use only our submarines. We could not enforce the decisive blockade or interruption which is possible from surface vessels. Our submarines took a heavy toll but could not, by themselves, prevent the invasion of Norway. In the Channel and in the North Sea, on the other hand, our superior naval surface forces, aided by our submarines, will operate with close and effective air assistance.

This brings me, naturally, to the great question of invasion from the air, and of the impending struggle between the British and German Air Forces. It seems quite clear that no invasion on a scale beyond the capacity of our land forces to crush speedily is likely to take place from the air until our Air Force has been definitely overpowered. In the meantime, there may be raids by parachute troops and attempted descents of airborne soldiers. We should be able to give those gentry a warm reception both in the air and on the ground, if they reach it in any condition to continue the dispute. But the great question is: Can we break Hitler's air weapon? Now, of course, it is a very great pity that we have not got an Air Force at least equal to that of the most powerful enemy within striking distance of these shores. But we have a very powerful Air Force which has proved itself far superior in quality, both in men and in many types of machine, to what we have met so far in the numerous and fierce air battles which have been fought with the Germans. In France, where we were at a considerable disadvantage and lost many machines on the ground when they were standing round the aerodromes, we were accustomed to inflict in the air losses of as much as two and two-and-a-half to one. In the fighting over Dunkirk, which was a sort of no-man's-land, we undoubtedly beat the German Air Force, and gained the mastery of the local air, inflicting here a loss of three or four to one day after day. Anyone who looks at the photographs which were published a week or so ago of the re-embarkation, showing the masses of troops assembled on the beach and forming an ideal target for hours at a time, must realize that this re-embarkation would not have been possible unless the enemy had resigned all hope of recovering air superiority at that time and at that place.

In the defense of this Island the advantages to the defenders will be much greater than they were in the fighting around Dunkirk. We hope to improve on the rate of three or four to one which was realized at Dunkirk; and in addition all our injured machines and their crews which get down safely-and, surprisingly, a very great many injured machines and men do get down safely in modern air fighting-all of these will fall, in an attack upon these Islands, on friendly. soil and live to fight another day; whereas all the injured enemy machines and their complements will be total losses as far as the war is concerned.

During the great battle in France, we gave very powerful and continuous aid to. the French Army, both by fighters and bombers; but in spite of every kind of pressure we never would allow the entire metropolitan fighter strength of the Air Force to be consumed. This decision was painful, but it was also right, because the fortunes of the battle in France could not have been decisively affected even if we had thrown in our entire fighter force. That battle was lost by the unfortunate strategical opening, by the extraordinary and unforeseen power of the armored columns, and by the great preponderance of the German Army in numbers. Our fighter Air Force might easily have been exhausted as a mere accident in that great struggle, and then we should have found ourselves at the present time in a very serious plight. But as it is, I am happy to inform the House that our fighter strength is stronger at the present time relatively to the Germans, who have suffered terrible losses, than it has ever been; and consequently we believe ourselves possessed of the capacity to continue the war in the air under better conditions than we have ever experienced before. I look forward confidently to the exploits of our fighter pilots-these splendid men, this brilliant youth-who will have the glory of saving their native land, their island home, and all they love, from the most deadly of all attacks.

There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germany without intermission. I do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it, like the brave men of Barcelona, and will be able to stand up to it, and carry on in spite of it, at least as well as any other people in the world. Much will depend upon this; every man and every woman will have the chance to show the finest qualities of their race, and render the highest service to their cause. For all of us, at this time, whatever our sphere, our station, our occupation or our duties, it will be a help to remember the famous lines: He nothing common did or mean, Upon that memorable scene.

I have thought it right upon this occasion to give the House and the country some indication of the solid, practical grounds upon which we base our inflexible resolve to continue the war. There are a good many people who say, "Never mind. Win or lose, sink or swim, better die than submit to tyranny-and such a tyranny." And I do not dissociate myself from them. But I can assure them that our professional advisers of the three Services unitedly advise that we should carry on the war, and that there are good and reasonable hopes of final victory. We have fully informed and consulted all the self-governing Dominions, these great communities far beyond the oceans who have been built up on our laws and on our civilization, and who are absolutely free to choose their course, but are absolutely devoted to the ancient Motherland, and who feel themselves inspired by the same emotions which lead me to stake our all upon duty and honor. We have fully consulted them, and I have received from their Prime Ministers, Mr. Mackenzie King of Canada, Mr. Menzies of Australia, Mr. Fraser of New Zealand, and General Smuts of South Africa-that wonderful man, with his immense profound mind, and his eye watching from a distance the whole panorama of European affairs-I have received from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there because they represent the will of their people, messages couched in the most moving terms in which they endorse our decision to fight on, and declare themselves ready to share our fortunes and to persevere to the end. That is what we are going to do.

We may now ask ourselves: In what way has our position worsened since the beginning of the war? It has worsened by the fact that the Germans have conquered a large part of the coast line of Western Europe, and many small countries have been overrun by them. This aggravates the possibilities of air attack and adds to our naval preoccupations. It in no way diminishes, but on the contrary definitely increases, the power of our long-distance blockade. Similarly, the entrance of Italy into the war increases the power of our long-distance blockade. We have stopped the worst leak by that. We do not know whether military resistance will come to an end in France or not, but should it do so, then of course the Germans will be able to concentrate their forces, both military and industrial, upon us. But for the reasons I have given to the House these will not be found so easy to apply. If invasion has become more imminent, as no doubt it has, we, being relieved from the task of maintaining a large army in France, have far larger and more efficient forces to meet it.

If Hitler can bring under his despotic control the industries of the countries he has conquered, this will add greatly to his already vast armament output. On the other hand, this will not happen immediately, and we are now assured of immense, continuous and increasing support in supplies and munitions of all kinds from the United States; and especially of aeroplanes and pilots from the Dominions and across the oceans coming from regions which are beyond the reach of enemy bombers.

I do not see how any of these factors can operate to our detriment on balance before the winter comes; and the winter will impose a strain upon the Nazi regime, with almost all Europe writhing and starving under its cruel heel, which, for all their ruthlessness, will run them very hard. We must not forget that from the moment when we declared war on the 3rd September it was always possible for Germany to turn all her Air Force upon this country, together with any other devices of invasion she might conceive, and that France could have done little or nothing to prevent her doing so. We have, therefore, lived under this danger, in principle and in a slightly modified form, during all these months. In the meanwhile, however, we have enormously improved our methods of defense, and we have learned what we had no right to assume at the beginning, namely, that the individual aircraft and the individual British pilot have a sure and definite superiority. Therefore, in casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair.

During the first four years of the last war the Allies experienced nothing but disaster and disappointment. That was our constant fear: one blow after another, terrible losses, frightful dangers. Everything miscarried. And yet at the end of those four years the morale of the Allies was higher than that of the Germans, who had moved from one aggressive triumph to another, and who stood everywhere triumphant invaders of the lands into which they had broken. During that war we repeatedly asked ourselves the question: How are we going to win? and no one was able ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe collapsed before us, and we were so glutted with victory that in our folly we threw it away.

We do not yet know what will happen in France or whether the French resistance will be prolonged, both in France and in the French Empire overseas. The French Government will be throwing away great opportunities and casting adrift their future if they do not continue the war in accordance with their Treaty obligations, from which we have not felt able to release them. The House will have read the historic declaration in which, at the desire of many Frenchmen-and of our own hearts-we have proclaimed our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle. However matters may go in France or with the French Government, or other French Governments, we in this Island and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are now called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our just demands; not one jot or tittle do we recede. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians have joined their causes to our own. All these shall be restored.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.' "

Churchill's speeches were sometimes know for their exaggeration but on this occasion, this was not the case and even 75 years on, the consequences for the Free World of a British defeat in the Battle do not bear thinking about. The Battle of Britain was to demonstrate to the rest of the World, especially to the United States that Britain was not defeated and that the hitherto invincible Nazi war machine could be defeated and stopped. 

Even now, it is debatable as to whether Hitler really wanted an invasion of this country, or whether he felt he could bring Britain to heel through defeating the RAF and by the mere threat of invasion, installing a puppet government  along the lines of Marshal Petain's Vichy regime in France, thus taking Britain out of the war and allowing him to concentrate his entire forces on Russia.

After the war, when German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was interrogated by the Russians whilst in British custody, he was asked which battle he viewed as being the most decisive to the eventual outcome of the war. The Russians were no doubt expecting him to say 'Stalingrad' but instead the old Field Marshall replied 'The Battle of Britain.' Perhaps von Rundstedt said this merely to spite the Russians but whatever the reason, it was not the answer they were looking for and they promptly ended their questioning and left!

Even today, 75 years after the event, the Battle of Britain evokes powerful emotions and talk of 'The Few', Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dowding, Park as well as the Commonwealth and overseas pilots, Kiwis, Canadians, Poles, Czechs and Americans amongst the 2,927 pilots of all Allied nationalities who flew in the Battle, of which 510 perished.

We should be eternally grateful to them all.

Published Sources:

The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain - Stephen Bungay, Aurum Press 2000 
The Narrow Margin - Derek Wood with Derek Dempster - Tri Service Press 1990